#COVID-19 ‘Things have eased off a lot here...’

Rochfortbridge man has message of hope from China

Rochfortbridge native Noel Meehan has been living in quarantine in China, but says that things are starting to settle down in Covid-19’s ground zero after weeks of severe measures.

“Within the last two weeks things have eased off here a lot,” Noel told the Westmeath Examiner last week. “You can see so many people and cars on the roads now. But of course people are still cautious and are taking all precautions and advice from the government.”

Noel has lived in China for the last eight years. He spent his first year in Wuhan (Hubei province), the epicentre of what is now a global pandemic, before moving to Guangzhou City near Hong Kong.

Noel works as a manager in a school, co-ordinating six international people and helping them communicate with another 37 local teachers within his department. The school in which he works is bigger than anything most Irish people can comprehend, with a staff roster including 500 local teachers and 50 international teachers.

As evidence of how China has managed to get the coronavirus outbreak under control by putting shoulders to the wheel, Noel says that he does not know anyone who had the virus.

“China Mobile sends us daily messages and updates to our phones and WeChat (Chinese WhatsApp) sends us updates to avoid places with people who might have it,” he said.

Noel visited Ireland with his fiancée – who is a native of China’s Guangdong province – in January, and returned to China on February 1, when the outbreak in Wuhan started to intensify.

“We are still at home,” he continued. “My fiancée and I both work for different schools, so we are in my school’s apartment since then.

“I was happy to stay at home but my fiancée had to go back to work. So I couldn’t let her go back by herself, and I joined her even though I knew it wasn’t the best idea at the time.

“We have all had to quarantine for the safety of ourselves and others. If you didn’t, the local police/volunteers would report you to the government within your city and they would come to see why you didn’t, and check all of your travel details.

“It has always been easy to find food and water here. What you see and read in the news is not always correct; I’m not saying it’s all wrong, but it’s a distorted view.

“There are pictures doing the rounds showing empty shelves, but these are only at the end of the day when normal supermarkets would run out of goods.

“We were allowed to go outside with a mask on and have our temperature checked before leaving and entering our apartment complex, and again at the supermarket when entering and exiting. Food and water was never an issue in Guangzhou.”

Although prices of goods temporarily jumped, Noel says that they have dropped again now as the situation returns to semi-normal.

“Face masks were very hard to get at one point in time, but that changed,” he added. “They skyrocketed in price but each local government cracked down on that very fast.”

As the precautions continue to remain in place, Noel occupies himself learning the Chinese erhu – a traditional Chinese violin.

“It’s much harder to learn, but it has a beautiful sound – we all know it from movies and concerts. Look it up online – you’ll know it!”

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